“Call Me Human” (2015)

2011-Present, Date, Indigenous, Subjectives of Refusal

This poem was written by Lyla June Johnston, a Diné activist, in 2015. It explores the meaning of “America” through a reflection of history. It can be found below and as a PDF.

“from birth we etch these lines

engrave them inside your mind

by the rockets red glare

the bombs bursting in the air

the war it begins 

to make the imaginary country

as real as your skin.

America doesn’t exist

it’s an idea men have obsessed over since 1776.

an excuse we use to manifest a reality that

destroyed the destiny of Native civilization.

they always told me I was an American

and so I said to them, 

“can you show me America?”

can you tell me where it is?

I’ve been looking for it all my life!

looking for the reason why my people had to die.

but the only place I can find America is inside of your mind. 

they said, no don’t worry… just

stand up

put your hand right there on your heart

now turn just a little bit towards the flag.

there it is. Right there. Don’t you see it?

there you go.

okay ready?


I pledge allegiance to an illusion

called the United States of America

and to the non-existent boundaries

for which it stands

one deception

under a Christian god

with which we legitimize the genocide 

of its indigenous peoples

America doesn’t exist 

but it is a psychological sickness we catch with years

of exposure to our public schools to baseball games

and once we believe that America is real we believe that we have a 

reason to steal a reason to kill.

the Long Walk 1965

9,000 Navajo are marched with barrels at their backs

herded like sheep for over 400 miles 

to their own special concentration camp. 

in the name of America

Wounded Knee Massacre 1890

U.S. Calvary descend on a Lakota camp

with 530 women and children

and with “America” in their minds

and red and white stripes blinding their sight

they sunk bullets into the chests of children

that could have been their own

in the name of America

look on the twenty dollar bill my friends, see the man who

marched 15,000 Cherokee– 

pregnant women, their children, the elderly– 

marched from Georgia to Oklahoma 

in the name of America.

do we remember what has been done in the name of an abstract nation

or has it all been buried along with our hearts and our tongues.

and I should not hate fireworks on warm summer nights

and I should not hate a combination of colors

and I should not hate dead men on paper money

and I should not hate. 

so let me tell you that I love you

dear soldiers

dear president of the imaginary states of America

dear school teachers

dear man behind the curtain

let me tell you that I love you

and that I am leaving it in the past

let me tell you that I too am in love with my motherland

but know that this Earth is the foremother of your forefathers

she existed before Hancock and before Nixon

before money before America

and that she will exist long after America is forgotten.

raising hands to our hearts for a fairytale

that America is anything more than a word

we’ve drawn so many maps, we’ve put so many flags in the ground

we’ve labeled all the land

we’ve drawn imaginary lines all around the sand

but people hear me and separate your fact from fabrication

this is the projection of our imagination onto 

the holy earth.

and today we unite to remember what is real

to remember that humanity is real

a beating heart is real

the earth beneath us is real

but America is a thought that

has turned us against ourselves

history into myth

entire cultures into forgotten languages

and the free mind into a society, deceived

so please do not call me an American

please do not even call me a Native American

please, I beg you, call me human

and do not call this land America

if you listen hard she will tell you her true name

as the nighthawks dive at twilight

as the wolves howl at midnight

as the waterfalls rage cascading

when the avalanches fracture breaking

she WILL tell us her true name with earthquakes

that split states and break fences to 

remind us she does 

not belong to us.

but that we belong to her.”